Stress Is What Makes Lawyers Act Like Lawyers

According to Hildebrandt, lawyers aren’t naturally overly critical, risk-averse people who are emotionally dead inside. It’s stress that makes lawyers behave this way.

Those are the top-line results of a Hildebrandt study. The consulting firm did personality tests on 1,800 lawyers from four large law firms. The surveys tested both partners and associates, in attempt to find the traits of “high performers.”

The results shouldn’t surprise anybody….

Here are the overall results from the Hildebrandt surveys, as reported on the ABA Journal:

When big-firm lawyers are under stress, they tend to shy away from others, while managers and highly educated professionals in other fields are more likely to become confrontational.

Lawyers under stress also generally become tense and overly critical, reluctant to take risks and make decisions, and emotionally distant, according to the results of personality tests of more than 1,800 lawyers from four large law firms.

Wait a minute — I thought these traits were how lawyers were supposed to act all of the time. I mean, how do you even end up in law school if you aren’t naturally critical, risk-averse, and reluctant to make decisions? Don’t people who behave differently end up in business school?

Anyway, there are some other findings about the personalities of lawyers. I found these two most interesting:

  • Tend to deal with others in a direct and matter-of-fact way, but may come across as cold, critical and argumentative.
  • Tend to be self-critical and temperamental but are also self-aware, open to feedback, and emotionally expressive.

Lawyers may come across as “cold, critical and argumentative”? Ya think?

But I don’t know where Hildebrandt is getting this “self-aware, open to feedback” trait. Maybe that’s something lawyers learn only after they go to law school. Because before they get there, they seem to be resistant to feedback and information, and shockingly ignorant of the likely outcome of their own decisions.

It does make sense, however, that three years of legal education would make a person very aware of their own shortcomings.

I’m not one of those people who puts a lot of stock in personality tests, but there’s nothing in here that is all that surprising if you’ve spent any time around lawyers.

Understanding Lawyers:The Personality Traits of Successful Practitioners [Hildebrandt]
Lawyers Under Stress Are Critical, Cautious and Distant, Personality Test Shows [ABA Journal]

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